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How to Establish a Physical Therapy Referral

Garrett Curler Aug 15, 2016

Most massage therapists who refer out to a physical therapist do so in one of three ways: to a PT with whom they work, to a PT who has treated them, or generally to an established clinic in the area.  Clients are more likely to trust a physical therapist if you can refer them to that person specifically, and are more likely to actually go to PT if they trust the therapist.  If, however, you do not work with a PT or have not received physical therapy, it can be difficult to find a specific physical therapist to whom to refer a patient.  This article will outline some suggestions for how to go about finding a physical therapist that you may recommend to your clients.

Establishing a regular referral is not just about helping an individual client who can benefit from PT.  It is also about building a professional network to help you build your practice and develop the ability to help all your future clients.  So, when you look for a physical therapist take into account factors that can make this a mutually beneficial professional relationship.  Before you ever go to make contact with a physical therapist, use the following criteria to help narrow down your search.

Location

Take a look at your client base to determine where most of your clients live.  It is a safe bet that if they are willing to travel to get to you, that they will be willing to see a PT that is located near you.  However, you can also establish a basic radius of travel.  If most of them travel fewer than 10 miles to get to you, then that’s probably about how far they are willing to drive to see a PT.  You want to make sure that your clients will actually go to physical therapy.  Distance alone may significantly reduce your number of candidates.

Specialty

Just as massage therapists specialize in a broad range of techniques, so too, physical therapists often work with specific modalities, conditions or populations.  You want the physical therapist you work with to be someone whose work compliments your own.  Consider your own client base.  Do you see many clients who are recovering from work injuries?  Elderly?  Athletes?  Or another specific population?  If so, then you want to find a PT that can address their specific needs.  Generally speaking, physical therapists who work with strength and conditioning, orthopedics, or manual therapy can be a good fit for most massage therapists.  A physical therapist, for instance, who specializes in neurological rehabilitation or cardiac rehabilitation does less with musculoskeletal conditions and therefore is a better fit if your client needs specific neurological or cardiac work.  You might also consider specific modalities that are popular in your area or with certain clients such as dry needling, aquatic therapy, whirlpool therapy or Pilates.

Practice Size/ Referral Potential

This factor is not as obvious at first.  The most successful professional relationships are built on trust and respect for one another’s abilities.  In order to build that trust it’s usually not enough to refer just one client.  You need to refer clients often enough to stay forefront in the physical therapist’s mind.  Exactly how often that is will depend on the physical therapist and their practice.  Someone who sees a couple dozen patients each week will be more likely to remember the one or two that come from you.  A PT who sees hundreds patients in that same timeframe, might lose track of you if they aren’t seeing several of your clients regularly.

Generally speaking, when establishing professional referral networks, you want to look for other providers whose capacity is similar to your own.  Think about how many people you work with and generally how many clients your practice sees on a regular basis.  Of those clients, how many do you think might benefit from occasional physical therapy?  If possible, look for a physical therapist to whom that many referrals will be an appreciable gain.  Of course, quantity is not the only consideration, so if you and a physical therapist share a very specific area of expertise, each client you refer within that scope may have a larger impact.

Finally, you want to ensure that when you refer one of your clients, you are sending them to a PT who will be able to see them.  Small, independent PTs might fit your treatment philosophy best, but if they are fully booked, your client might not be able to get an appointment for several weeks.  Can the physical therapist see your client and if so, how soon or how often?

Willing to Work With You

The above factors might help you to narrow down the most convenient, most likely candidates.  Whether or not they are willing to work with a massage therapist and how they see that relationship working, though, is the key factor that will make or break a professional relationship.  You may be able to get some clues about their attitude before meeting with a potential networking partner.  Do they have existing relationships with other healthcare professionals such as chiropractors, acupuncturists, doctors, etc.?  Most of the time, however, you’ll simply have to meet the PT and talk to him or her. 

When you do meet with a physical therapist, keep in mind the criteria we’ve discussed above.  Confirm that your research is accurate and that this will be a good fit.  Don’t be afraid to talk to the PT about what he or she would like to get out of your professional affiliation.  Do they need you to send the patient to a doctor for a referral first?  How often and in what way would it be best for the two of you to communicate regarding mutual clients?  Simply be willing to talk about your practice and about theirs and you’ll be surprised how quickly and organically a professional relationship develops.  Finally, if at first you don’t succeed; try, try again. 

 

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